Most frontline health care workers reported negative impacts on their mental health from worry or stress related to Covid-19, and about 1 in 5 are concerned about getting sick and exposing their family to the coronavirus, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and the Washington Post.
What stresses out health care workers
For the poll, researchers surveyed 1,327 health care workers with direct contact with patients and their bodily fluids from Feb. 11 to March 7.
A majority of respondents (62%) said worry or stress related to Covid-19 had had a detrimental effect on their mental health, and nearly 50% of respondents said their physical health had suffered from the worry and stress about Covid-19. Overall, according to the study, these negative impacts seemed to hit younger health care workers—those ages 18 to 29 years old—the hardest of all surveyed age groups.
The survey found that nearly half of respondents reported having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, while just under a third reported frequent headaches or stomachaches as a result of Covid-19-related worry and stress. In addition, a third reported either receiving mental health care or thinking they needed mental health care but not receiving it.
When asked to express, in their own words, what the hardest part of working during the Covid-19 pandemic was, the most common answer was a worry of exposure, getting sick, and exposing family to the coronavirus. For others, the hardest part was having to wear personal protective equipment (16%) or being overworked (7%).
For instance, a 33-year-old woman responsible for in-home patient treatment and diagnosis in Missouri said the extra steps she has to take after coming home from working with Covid-19 patients was the hardest part about working during the epidemic. "[I] have to undress in the garage and [go] straight to the shower," she said. "Sometimes making my son sleep overnight at his grandma['s] when I have seen Covid patients that day."
Another respondent, a 38-year-old woman who had administrative duties at a hospital in Pennsylvania, said the most challenging part of working during the pandemic was in December 2020 and January 2021, when "we couldn't keep up with the capacity of patients, both Covid and not, [who] were coming into the hospital." She added, "The staff was overwhelmed, the resources were running out, and our exposure to Covid was extremely high. It was terrible, honestly, and scary."
The survey also found that about 8 in 10 respondents said concerns about being exposed to Covid-19 at work or exposing other in their household to Covid-19 has been a source of stress, while 62% said concerns about having enough PPE had been a source of stress.
However, the survey found that most respondents, despite the stress, reported feeling positive about going to work, with more than three-quarters of respondents saying they feel hopeful about going to work and more than two-thirds saying they feel optimistic.